After a slight stumble with Thor: The Dark World, Marvel’s ambitious cinematic universe project gets back on track with this robustly entertaining follow-up to Captain America: The First Avenger. By upping both the political and action stakes, and giving plenty of time to each of the various supporting characters, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have delivered a slick and exciting espionage thriller that engages the brain as much as the adrenaline. It may not be perfect – the action is a bit choppy, and veers into overkill towards the end – but this is still a strong entry in what is unquestionably a golden age of comic book adaptations.
Say what you like about Under the Skin (and it certainly isn’t for everybody), it at least has the courage of its convictions. In its daring attempt to mount an ambitious, abstract and experimental science fiction tale, it easily surpasses most other recent offerings in a genre now stuffed to the gills with comic-book adaptations; there’s probably been nothing as divisive or as elliptical since Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. But where that film spliced its genre elements with very human and spiritual dimensions, Under the Skin resolutely refuses to go any further than skin deep; the alien visitor, much like David Bowie’s outsider in The Man Who Fell to Earth (a distant relative of sorts), participates but doesn’t understand.
Full review: Under the Skin | Film @ The Digital Fix
‘Dumb fun’ broadly describes 300: Rise of an Empire, and boy, it doesn’t get much dumber than this. Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, this belated follow-up tries to be prequel, sequel and sidequel by embellishing and expanding upon the original story, and on its own limited terms it just about succeeds. But what felt bracingly different in 2007 now feels a bit tired and silly; the heavily stylised look wears thin after a while, and the scrappy story feels like its been sellotaped together from offcuts and leftovers. Only Eva Green’s lively performance stands out from the onslaught of bloody special effects.
Full review: 300: Rise of an Empire | Film @ The Digital Fix
The late Tom Clancy’s most famous character is dusted off and rebooted once again in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an entertaining if rudimentary assembly of familiar espionage plot devices and characters. Those who remember the previous Ryan films – in particular the original trilogy of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger – will feel immediately at home in this new take, which moves the character in to the present day whilst portraying a reasonably faithful version of his origins. But the uncomplicated plot, brisk pace and short-ish running time mean that, compared to those previous outings, this is a lightweight take on Clancy’s hero, lacking the murky politics which usually dragged him out of his depth.
Full review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | Film @ The Digital Fix
Director Peter Jackson took a risk when he decided to break up his epic prequel to The Lord of the Rings in to three parts rather than the originally-planned two. After all, this was clearly never going to be a simple page-to-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, and it threatened to stretch an already slender plot beyond breaking point. Yet he just about succeeds in pulling it off. The Desolation of Smaug is an exciting adventure romp, providing two and a half hours of solid entertainment, while at the same time failing to come anywhere near the highs of The Two Towers, Jackson’s middle section of his earlier Rings cycle which, for many, was the best film in the entire trilogy.
The lustre of Asgardian high adventure diminishes a little in this follow-up to 2011’s Thor (and last year’s Avengers Assemble too). Alan Taylor’s serviceable sequel delivers the epic action required from the latest entry in Marvel’s ambitious cinematic masterplan, but the story is awash with far too much pseudo-scientific blather and a vague sense of that-will-do plot laziness, which leaves little to savour beyond the visual spectacle. What worked in the first film still works now, which makes for an entertaining two hours for Marvel fans, but it’s a step down from Iron Man 3, never mind Joss Whedon’s breathtaking superhero team-up.
Full review: Thor: The Dark World | Film @ The Digital Fix
Outside of the Fast and Furious franchise, the intergalactic anti-hero Richard B. Riddick remains Vin Diesel’s most successful character – a mysterious loner who is as inscrutable as he is lethal. After the back to basics sci-fi horror Pitch Black kickstarted Diesel’s action man career and garnered Riddick a loyal following, the franchise appeared to beach itself with the magnificently bloated follow up The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004; an overly ambitious sequel let down by a clunky script laden with so much mumbo-jumbo it was difficult to know what was going on half the time. Now, clearly undeterred by that film’s financial failure, Diesel and series director David Twohy have reunited to work on this leaner (and cheaper) third entry, which is much more of a Pitch Black 2 than Chronicles ever was.
Full review: Riddick | Cinema Review | Film @ The Digital Fix
A very hit and miss affair, this follow-up to 2010’s mightily entertaining Kick-Ass succumbs to the law of diminishing returns. On the surface it has all its predecessor’s ingredients: bloody violence, inappropriate language, flirtations with darker thematic material, an irreverent approach to the world of comic books. Yet something is lacking; perhaps it was the novelty factor of Matthew Vaughn’s original that elevated it above the norm, or maybe it’s the change of behind-the-scenes personnel, but much of this sequel feels perfunctory – what felt envelope-pushing first time around now seems a bit silly. For those who enjoyed the characters and just want to see what happened next though, Kick-Ass 2 will likely more than satisfy.
Full review: Kick-Ass 2 | Film @ The Digital Fix
Arriving in the UK with the word ‘FLOP’ seared into its flesh, thanks to a lacklustre marketing campaign, an underwhelming performance at the box office stateside and a critical mauling in many quarters, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s adaptation of The Lone Ranger had a bad reputation before it even opened. All the more reason to rejoice then that it turns out to be one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year: full of spectacular action, eccentric humour and loving nods to the entire history of the western genre. Most surprising of all is that the near two and a half hour running time just flies by. Why can’t all flops be this much fun?
The X-Men franchise rehabilitation continues apace with The Wolverine, a sturdy second spin-off for the mutton-chopped, metal-boned mutant. Arriving in the wake of 2011’s fast-paced First Class, and with one eye on next year’s sure-to-be-epic Days of Future Past, this new entry is akin to a pause for breath, centring as it does on its lone character and a relatively grounded, more intimate story (for a comic book adaptation at least). It’s a refreshing change of pace, noticeably helped by relocating the action to Japan, and it gives room for star Hugh Jackman – notching up a sixth appearance in the role – to counterbalance his usual aggressive action scenes with a few quieter moments of character drama.